Making Friends on the Loneliest Road in America: Highway 50 in Nevada
The reputation of Highway 50: “It’s totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it.” (All photos: Bill Fink)
The Concept: Drive the length of “America’s Loneliest Road” to see just how lonely it is, both for a visitor and the locals.
The Route: 347 miles along Highway 50 straight through the middle of Nevada from Fernley to Baker. The negative: a little boring to stay on a single road. The positive: hard to get lost.
The Car: 2012 Toyota Prius. A sensible choice with fine mileage and capable of triple-digit speeds, but which looks a little out of place at a roadhouse filled with Harleys and rusty pickup trucks.
The Loneliness Scale: “10” for voices-in-the-head desert-mirage talking-to-cactus loneliness. “1” for a group hugging, kumbaya-singing, we-are-all-one Western hoedown.
Why so Lonely? In 1986, Life Magazine did a story on Highway 50, declaring it to be “America’s Loneliest Road,” The magazine quoted a local AAA motor rep as saying “”It’s totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it. We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.”
Survival Skills: I brought three water bottles and a couple apples. Knowing I’d be out of cell-phone range I actually took a paper map and a hard-copy travel brochure with me. This is the part of the country where even the most optimistic wireless coverage maps shows as a big white blotch, sort of the modern equivalent of Darkest Africa.
Checking out some ropin’ in Fernley.
The Launch—Fernley: My trip begins near the city of Fernley, at the sun-blasted corner of I-80 and Hwy 50. Next to the corner is a parking lot packed with trailers, camper vans, people, horses, and cattle. Despite having traveled .1 miles on my journey, it seems like something worth investigating. Turns out I’ve stumbled onto an event in the National Roping Tour. Or as I discover, it is always pronounced: “Ropin’”
As I take some photos, a cowboy leans in to say howdy. Wes Scolari, originally from Fallon (my next stop on the highway), has driven with his horse down from Idaho to join the semi-pro competition. I ask him if he’s lonely. He finds this pretty funny. “Hell, me and these guys,” he gestures to the 80+ hatted fellows on horseback around us, “we’ve been around each other for who knows how many years.”